Clockwise around Ireland

Following another day in Dublin, I embarked on a clockwise tour around Ireland, stopping in Waterford, Cork and Cobh and Galway.

Dublin:

Having completed my Dublin To Do list in a single day, I had a full day to explore the less touristy sights. A plethora of museums awaited – The Emigration Museum, The Writer’s Museum, An Art Museum which had the added benefit of being free, and the tantalizing Leprechaun Museum, focusing on Irish folklore and storytelling. I am sure they would all be worth a visit, but I wanted to do something local and there is nothing more local in Dublin than pubs. A pub crawl it would be.

With a choice of 751 pubs currently operating in Dublin,  I needed a plan of attack. Lists abound of the best, oldest, most authentic ambience, greatest music pubs etc. I picked a list highlighting iconic Irish pubs and headed out, into the rain and wind, towards O’Neills, established in 1713. Crossing the Liffey river, I spied the O’Neills pub. I entered, anxiously anticipating a full Irish breakfast. It was not to be – there are two O’Neill pubs in Dublin and Google maps had taken me to the one which did not serve breakfast. The bartender must have been used to this as he gave me walking directions to the proper one, an 8 minute walk away.

But on the way, I spotted another pub on the list, O’Donoghues, and ducked in there for breakfast. The full Irish breakfast is huge: sausage, bacon, eggs, black pudding, hash browns, tomatoes, beans and toast. I ordered it, ate about half and left a large amount to waste.

The other O’Neill pub was across the road so I dashed across, ordered a glass of wine, sipped it slowly and left. The pub was fairly empty, just a few students from the nearby Trinity College enjoying an after lunch pint.

A quick 5 minute walk brought me to the Long Hall, opening originally in 1860. Another glass of wine, but this one wasn’t going down too well. I still had 3 more pubs on my list, but the giant breakfast was weighing heavily, the wind was now officially gale force according to the weather alerts and the rain coming down hard. I abandoned both my glass of wine and my pub quest and retreated to my hotel.

I snuggled under the covers of my warm, dry bed and partook in my guilty Irish pleasure – binge watching The Great British Bake Off (as it is called here) on Netflix. One of my weirder delights in Europe is checking out the  different offerings in each country on Netflix. Great Irish Castles is available in France, but not Ireland. Jeopardy (from 1984) is available in Ireland, but not France. Welcome to Sweden is available in Sweden, but nowhere else. I have become a recent convert to The Great British Baking Show, but only the last 2 seasons are available in the USA on Netflix and PBS and none in Canada. To say I was thrilled to find that Ireland had the first 7 series on Netflix is an understatement. I was in Bake Off heaven.

Waterford:

Most people enjoy Ireland by hiring a car and driving, taking in the rugged countryside and quaint towns. This wasn’t an option for me since, when my wallet was stolen in Riga, my driver’s license was also taken. I had applied for a replacement on-line with Service Ontario, but between its idiotic web service which requires both an on-line application and the mailing of a credit card authorization and its total bureaucratic incompetence, 6 weeks after completing the application, I still had no proof I could drive. Thus I was limited to travelling around by train and bus. It turned out to be a relaxing and inexpensive way to travel in Ireland.

A pleasant 2 hour train ride took me south from Dublin to the city of Waterford. Built on the banks of the Suir River, its harbour was a popular refuge for Vikings who established the first city in Ireland in 914 AD. The city celebrates its long history with The Viking’s Triangle, an area with 3 museums. Reginald’s Tower is the only Viking monument dedicated to a person (King Reginald) and houses the Viking museum. The Medieval Museum covers the city’s history during the medieval period from the 11th century to the 18th, and the Bishop’s Palace (the former Bishop’s residence), includes a time line of events in the 20th and 21st century Ireland and Waterford. Each is well presented and informative, despite the lack of imagination in names.

IMG_2904
Reginald’s Tower in the middle of Waterford

Waterford is most famous for its finely cut crystal originally made in the, not surprisingly named, Waterford Factory. Hour long tours through the factory are offered. Being mesmerized by glassblowing, I could not resist the opportunity to watch a display. The tour did not disappoint, beginning with a short video about the crystal, then proceeding directly to the factory floor where craftsmen demonstrated each stage of the process, from heating and blowing, to polishing, quality control and cutting. The workers were quite happy to chat with the tourists – indeed, while the factory does make about 70,000 pieces a year, its bread and butter are the tours. Shifts are scheduled according to the tour schedules; when there are no tours, no work is scheduled.

IMG_2941
Glassblowing

Although originally begun by an Irishman, the Waterford factory has endured various owners over the centuries. In the mid-20th century, Czechs took over and employed mostly Central European craftsmen. More recently, it was bought by the Finnish Fiskars corporation, a company with which I am familiar as it also makes scrapbooking supplies-scissors and cutters. Small world.

In addition to walking us through the factory, examples of specially commissioned works are on exhibit:

IMG_2949
Telephone and Piano in crystal

Cork:

A 2 hour bus ride to Cork followed, with views of the rolling Irish countryside lined by stone fences enclosing grazing sheep, through tiny villages where the shops edged the roadways, pubs proudly displayed their original dates and the streets only wide enough for a single vehicle. It was the Ireland of my imagination.

Cork is Ireland’s second largest city, but at only 125,000 people, it is relatively small. Built on the river Lee, it is the nearest major center to the Ring of Kerry. How the Ring of Kerry got its name is unknown, but it is a 180 square kilometer area on the southwestern coast with striking Atlantic seascapes, beaches, lots of pastureland, Ireland’s only fjords and pretty towns like Killarney, marked by limestone churches and cobblestone streets lined with pubs, wool stores selling Aran sweaters and all manner of candies. Doughnuts, spelled donuts here, seemed to be the vice of choice, stuffed and topped with all manner of goodies.

IMG_3063
Donut Shop Window

What became a common theme, but one that came with ample warning, was the intemperate weather. Ireland in November is rarely pleasant – cold, windy and rainy- and this November was no exception. The crowning glory of the Ring of Kerry is the Dingle Peninsula, 1 of 3 peninsulas that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean and, on a clear day, offers a spectacular sight of blue skies, sheer faced-cliffs dropping into deep blue waters topped with white frothy caps. I got hazy skies, rain and hurricane like winds.

IMG_3032

Fortunately, there were enough abandoned houses, remains of pagan rock circles, former friaries, stately castles and a statue of Charlie Chaplin (who summered at Waterville for many years) to keep me entertained:

 

 

Cobh:

Twenty minutes by train from Cork lies Cobh (originally Queenstown), a former powerhouse port which boasts a long maritime history. The Cobh Heritage Museum focuses on the town’s maritime past. The Irish have been leaving Ireland from Cobh since the 17th century, first as indentured servants to the New World, then as convicts transported to Australia a century later. They emigrated in droves (nearly 2 million) during the Irish potato famine between 1845 and 1849. Most originally went to Canada as the passage cost only 50 shillings as opposed to 70 shillings to the USA. But once they realized they had exchanged one group of British oppressors in Ireland for another group in Canada, they headed to the USA, particularly Boston. A young Irish emigrant, Annie Moore, is honoured by a statue as the first person processed at Ellis Island. For persons wishing to learn about their Irish ancestors, a genealogy service is conveniently located in the museum.

But it is the ships that docked at Cobh to which it owes its fame. The first steam powered ocean going ship, the Sirius, set off from Cobh in 1838 and arrived in New York 16 days latter, drastically cutting the transit time from the previous 6 to 8 weeks. It was to Cobh that the survivors of the Lusitania in May, 1915 were brought. A German U-boat had torpedoed the passenger ship 11 miles off the coast, killing 1198 innocent passengers and crew and prompting the USA to enter WW1.

Cobh was the Titanic’s last port of call before it hit the infamous iceberg. Francis Browne, who had sailed aboard it from Southampton before disembarking at Cobh, took hundreds of photographs of the boat, the crew and the passengers, including the last known one of the ship. His photos are showcased, alongside Titanic memorabilia and tributes to some of its victims. A walking tour of the Titanic trail is on offer each day, but I was too late for it.

Ironically for a town with such a long and glorious history of ships departing for far off lands, its main source of revenue today is from hosting cruise ships, nearly 100 each year.

Galway

Midway up the wild Atlantic coast is the city of Galway. Like the other places I had visited in Ireland, it is a pretty town straddling a river. Century old pubs, limestone churches, and arches dating back to the Spanish Armada’s visit in the 16th century decorate the city, but the surrounding countryside – including the Connemara district – and the seascape are the main attractions. The Cliffs of Moher are 74 kilometers away. As one of the most popular tourist attractions in Ireland, upward of 120 buses will be in the cliff’s parking lot in the summer; but on a rainy, cloudy day in November, only 10 busloads of tourists braved the elements.

IMG_3230
Photo of a photo of the Cliffs on a nice day (Visitor’s Center)

Despite the cliffs having a straight drop of 700 feet, a stone fence lines only 1/2 a kilometer of the 14 kilometers.. The asphalt path goes much further than the fence, leaving extensive areas of the path completely exposed to the drop. Each year, people die getting too close to the edge – last year 8 people went over. Some are base jumpers or parachutists, others are suicides and still others are posing for photos. It has the dubious honour of being #7 on the list of the most deadly tourist spots (Mont Blanc on the French/ Italy border is #1). Giving my fear of heights and dying and the strong outward wind, I limited my walks to the fenced area.

IMG_3232

Next stop: Northern Ireland.

“Doing” Dublin

I’ve no Irish blood in me, cannot dance a jig and have never been crazy about St. Patrick’s day celebrations, so what am I doing in Ireland? Mostly because of the 51 countries in Europe, I have visited 24 to date and have 27 to go, including Ireland, so I gave into the temptation to cross another country off the list and flew into Dublin. There was more, of course, like its history, its spectacular Western seacoast and the opportunity to hang upside down and plant my lips on a stone upon which millions had smooched before. Deciding against kissing the Blarney Stone, I arrived in Dublin one rainy afternoon to enjoy its other delights.

It began as soon as I settled into the taxi from the airport to the hotel. The driver, upon learning it was my first time in Ireland, launched into a trove of useful information about the city. “Go see The Book of Kells, the library at Trinity College and the Guinness factory,” he advised “and you must eat Irish stew and the seafood.” He had a few other gems, including “all Irish politicians are idiots.” The free guided tour was, I would discover, standard on every taxi ride I took. As soon as my decidedly non-Irish accent was heard, every taxi driver pointed out things I should do, provided commentary on current Irish issues and mentioned their sons, daughters or other relatives who now lived in Canada.

So, too, on the Hop on/ Hop off bus tour I took my first day. Instead of the standard recording in half a dozen languages, 2 of my buses had live and lively commentary from the drivers. One driver, after noting that Alexander Guinness (of the Guinness beer fame) had 21 children, said he only had 5, since the Irish had finally managed to unshackle the chains of the Roman Catholic Church. He then broke into a song variously referring to brothels, prostitutes and a bastard. Not quite X-rated but not the usual Hop On/Hop Off fare. Another common theme of every tour bus driver was a lack of enthusiasm for Donald Trump. One bragged that Ireland was a true democracy since its president had received the majority of votes, something Trump could not claim (Hilary won the popular vote by more than 3 million votes).

Following the taxi driver’s recommendation, I created a To Do list for Dublin with the aid of a Hop On/Hop Off bus (18 Euros). First stop, Trinity College. After paying the 14 Euros entrance fee, I entered the library where the Book of Kells rests. The Book is a 9th century, ornately decorated, manuscript containing the first 4 gospel books. The museum housing the Book is underwhelming. Giant cut-outs of various pages introduce the book, outline theories about when it was written, where, by whom, its subsequent history and its physical properties- how vellum is made, where the different colour dyes used in the illustrations were acquired, etc.

The actual Book is under glass in a darkened room, with no photos allowed. Two different pages are on display-they change the pages every week- along with two other similar books. I patiently stood in line waiting my turn to glance at the books, walked around the cabinet where it and the others were open, admired the decorations and moved towards the library. One To Do off my list, 5 more to go.

The Library at Trinity College deservedly makes all the Most Beautiful Libraries in the world lists. The Long Room was constructed in the 18th century and, since 1801, was given the right to acquire a free copy of every book published in England and Ireland. Needless to say, it has a lot of old books in it. Visitors are limited to walking down the center aisle, which I did, and good photos are difficult due to the large number of visitors. I snapped a few not so good ones anyway and after 10 minutes left and struck To Do #2 off my list.

# 3 was Dublinia (11 Euros) , a museum located in the 12th century St. Michael’s Church, focusing on Viking and medieval Dublin. Here’s the abbreviated version of Irish history. Dublin had been founded by the Vikings in the 8th century who called it Dubh Linn (Black Pool) to which Dublin owes its name. The Vikings and the local Celtic tribes variously fought each other and intermarried until the Anglo-Normans invaded in 1171 and established themselves for the next 700 years. It was incorporated into England in the 14th century. Henry VIII began a series of plantations, confiscating land held by Celts or Normans and settling them instead with British Protestants. His daughter, Queen Elizabeth, continued the plantations and worried about having a Catholic island on England’s doorstep. She enacted the penal laws, forcibly requiring Roman Catholics to convert to Anglicanism and severely limiting the rights of Irish Catholics. For the next 300 years, Irish history was dominated by uprisings by Catholics/Irish against the British and the British’s ruthless oppression to tame the rebellious spirits. Ultimately, these failed. In 1916, demands for independence culminated in the Easter rising. The execution of its 14 leaders by the British only heightened the cries for independence and led to a bloody civil war. In 1921, a Treaty ended the war and the Irish Free State was established. In 1949, Ireland declared itself a republic but 6 counties in Northern Ireland opted for Home Rule, remaining part of the United Kingdom.

IMG_2791

#4 was St. Patrick’s Cathedral, just a few blocks away. After paying the 7 Euro restoration fee, I entered the largest and highest Cathedral in Ireland. The first church was constructed in 1192, but it has been through so many renovations and reincarnations that no one is sure when each section was constructed and how much is original. Today, its official title is the national cathedral of the Church of Ireland, having been at various times Roman Catholic, Protestant, Anglican, Huguenot and, during Oliver Cromwell’s foray into Ireland, a stable for horses.

Jonathon Swift, of Gulliver’s Travels fame, was given a place of prominence in the Cathedral. In addition to being an author, he was the dean or overseer of the cathedral between 1713 and 1745 and his grave is there. The Cathedral boasts fine stain glass windows, two alleged statues of St. Patrick (the Cathedral says they were sculpted centuries after his death so their accuracy is in doubt), Celtic Crosses said to mark the well were St. Patrick was baptized and, this being Ireland, a statue of Benjamin Guinness (of the beer fame, see below), who provided generously for a major reconstruction in the 19th century. It can therefore lay claim to being the Church that was built by beer.

#5 was the Guinness factory. I limit my beer consumption to a glass a century and figured this was as good a place as any to have my 21st century stein. After paying the 24 euro entrance fee, which included a pint of beer, I embarked on the self guided tour.

IMG_2844

Frankly, I found it underwhelming. I walked through a giant display about the ingredients in beer, then another large display showing the brewing process with special emphasis on the temperature for roasting barley (exactly 232 degrees celcius). A room full of barrels explains the cooper process; another giant hall talks about the transportation of the barrels all over the world. Then the fun starts, in one of two tasting rooms. A group of 25 of us were shown the proper technique for tasting beer (let it sit on the tongue for a few seconds and inhale it) before being allowed to gulp down a shooter size sample. Next was a display showing different advertising campaigns used by Guinness over the years, including the iconic Fish riding a Bicycle (A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle) but I still have no idea what it has to do with beer.

On the 7th floor is a bar with floor to ceiling windows providing 360 degree views of Dublin. I ordered my pint and slowly drank it. I found it quite flavourful, with the roasted barley invoking both coffee and chocolate. However, I still don’t like beer, not even Guinness, and can now safely refuse another one until the next century.

#6 on the To Do list was to go to an Irish song and dance show. I attended the touristy, but enthusiastic show at the Arlington  (34 Euros before liquor) where not only did I strike # 6 off my list, but I had the Irish stew. Okay, but needs more seasoning for my taste.

IMG_2857

Feeling quite content with having completed my To Do list in a single day,  but quite a bit poorer, I returned to my hotel wondering what to do for my remaining days in Dublin. Stay tuned for the next post.